The Five Minute Habit that Can Change Your Life

The Five Minute Habit that Can Change Your Life

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”  – David Steindl-Rast

Each and every one of us go about our lives day in and day out, seeking the things that we think can make us happy. We watch movies, go on food trips, hang out with friends, and work to earn money – all in pursuit of the ever elusive thing that we call happiness. But the secret to happiness is much simpler than all of that. The Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast, captures this succinctly and truthfully in his Ted Talk when he talks about the relationship between happiness and gratitude.

He says, Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy – because we will always want to have something else or something more.”

This may seem like a simple idea, but it is radical at its core, because we tend to think that gratitude follows from being happy. If I have money, food, or friends then all these things will make me happy. So I can only be grateful once I have the things that I am happy about. But that is putting the cart before the horse. In order to be truly happy, we first need to learn how to be grateful.

There’s a simple practice that takes a little of your time and basically no money that can help with this. It’s called the five-minute journal. You can check out the website at http://www.fiveminutejournal.com/, but all you really need to get started are a pen, a piece of paper.

Every morning, once you wake up and get out of bed – the first thing you do is grab your pen and paper and write:

(a) Three things that you are grateful for;

(b) Three things that would make today great, and;

(c) Two affirmations about yourself.

Every night at the end of the day, take your pen and paper again and write:

(a) Three amazing things that happened today; and

(b) How could today have been better?

This habit allows you step back, even just for five minutes. It will help you to be grateful for the things you have experienced throughout your day, who you are as a person and why you are amazing. Moreover, it allows you to look forward – to continue to grow and improve. It strikes that balance between accepting yourself and striving greater and bigger things. Get into the habit of being grateful, and see how it can make you a happier and healthier person.

This Idea That Needs to Die

This Idea That Needs to Die

Poverty, gang violence and injustice. This is what  book “Tattoos on the Heart” by Fr. Gregory Boyle is all about. Fr. Greg is a Jesuit priest who works at the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles. What you need to know about that place is that it is the center of gang activity in America. It is an area with a lot of poverty along with a lot of violence. Many social ills come together and percolate in this little corner of America. Education is not easily accessible and not always practical so many young adults resort to gang activity, which perpetuates a cycle of destruction and hopelessness. This book may be about an area in Los Angeles, but we could easily be talking about many places in the Philippines as well.

Surprisingly, Fr. Greg’s book is not a book of condemnation or despair, but a book of hope. Fr. Greg has worked with the gangs in America for over twenty years, and he shares many stories and insights in his book. One of the major points in the book is that as a society, we’ve developed certain ideas and notions that allow all this marginalization and injustice to continue.

He writes that “we have this lurking suspicion within us that some lives matter more than others.” This is the idea that he wants to challenge – the idea that needs to die.

Are the struggles of the poor less important than those of the high powered CEO? Is the life of a child on the street worth less than the student in the private school? People live and die everywhere. People do great things and terrible things everywhere. But it seems we think and behave as if some lives have more worth than others.

Mother Teresa said that the problem with the world is that “we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.” It is easy to look at everyone around us, and think of them as “others” – people that are just there. But the great ill of humanity is that we treat the “others” as something, instead of someone. It takes great humility, self-reflection and determination to truly see the other person for who they are – to look into the eye of another person and truly understand that there is another human being of equal worth and value there.

Fr. Greg adds this final thought: “It is not enough to take the right stand on issues, but it is also important to stand in the right place.” In other words, it is not just what you stand for, but who you stand with. Because we don’t just fight for the issues. We fight for people. We stand with people – we stand with someone who is another human being – a human being of equal worth and value.

Richard Feynman on The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Richard Feynman on The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

If you want to hear from one of the most brilliant minds of the last century, you could do worse than looking to Richard Feynman. Renown for his genius, his true gift lies in his ability to get to the essence of a matter quickly, and give his honest thoughts on that experience. His life is well documented and his thoughts and ideas have been made public many times. When an idea gets into his head, it gets said bluntly and honestly with no nonsense or sugarcoating in between. Feynman is truly a no-nonsense-truth-speaker. For a glimpse into his thoughts seek out his book: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Therein Feynman talks about a variety of topics ranging from physics to art, language and education.

What I found particularly haunting, is Feynman’s criticism his time teaching in Brazil. The comments he had about the education system can be translated to many places in the world, across many different time periods. It begins with Feynman’s astonishment that his students are extremely knowledgable about many details about physics. They could identify and state correctly all kinds of physical theories and principles. They could identify Brewster’s Angle or the Refraction Index of all sorts of materials. But when Feynman changed the questions, and asked them about how light would pass through a glass of water that he held before him, they weren’t able to figure it out! He realized that even though many students were very intelligent, no one was actually a scientist. There wasn’t any science being done in Brazil!

When he investigated it further, he realized it was because students weren’t doing the work he assigned. Feynman lamented, “After the lecture some students came up to me in a little delegation, and told me that I didn’t understand the backgrounds that they have, that they can study without doing problems, that they have already learned arithmetic, and that this stuff was beneath them.” Students didn’t want to do the work because they felt like it was too easy, or that it was beneath them.

Moreover he noted, “It was a kind of one-upmanship, where nobody knows what’s going on, and they’d put the other one down as if they did know. They all fake that they know, and if one student admits for a moment that something is confusing by asking a question, the others take a high-handed attitude, acting as if it’s not confusing at all, telling him that he’s wasting their time.”

Student sit in classrooms to learn, but what ends up happening instead is that they pretend to already know. They insist that they are already right. And even if they do not know, every student is terrified of the possibility that their thoughts will be incorrect. So instead they pretend that content is easy, when in fact everytone was confused. The person who is brave enough to admit they don’t quite get it, is put down by the rest of the class.

Feynman’s final diagnosis of this kind of one-upmanship is that “All the work they did, intelligent people, but they got themselves into this funny state of mind, this strange kind of self-propagating “education” which is meaningless, utterly meaningless!”

There is a need to shift our perspective, and focus not on correct answers but correct methods. Feynman’s ideas are spot on – that we need to take pleasure, not in knowing things – but in finding things out. It is the process of learning that is meaningful, even more so than the knowledge itself. His book, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is a joy to read in its entirety, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a different perspective on what it means to be a genius and a learner.

Making School More Like Video Games

Making School More Like Video Games

school_its_way_more_boring_than_when_you_were_there

Look inside any classroom today. You’ll see students who are bored – student on Facebook or on their phones. We blame it on the kids – on the technology – on the teachers – on the system. Blame whomever you want, it seems that the education system is faltering, and if it doesn’t adapt, people are going to get left behind.

Maybe it’s time we rethink education. These days, student enter a room, turn on sponge mode and try and soak up the data put before them. Then on the day of the exam, they enter the room and squeeze out all that information on a piece of paper. If that’s education, I want none of it. It’s too passive – it’s too disengaged – it’s too BORING!

Perhaps we have to rethink what learning is like and I don’t think the problem is just with the students. Some students, accused of having short attention spans in the classroom are able to focus for hours while playing video games. Even when they’re not playing, they’re willing to spend more time studying the games they love and the strategies they play. Gaming, aside from not being a waste of time, can teach us something about capitalizing on people’s desire for meaningful activity.

Here are three ways that classroom design can be more like video game design.

1) Learning needs a safe place to fail.

When you play a game, if you fall into a pit – you know not to do it again. If the boss kicks your ass, you know you weren’t ready for it. But no big deal, load up your save file, use your extra lives. Gamers are willing to take risks, because the stakes aren’t too high. And when the challenges do get tougher, they’ll be ready.

Learners also need a safe place to feel. Most of the time, a test feels like a do or die situation. If you screw up on an exam, it’s reflected forever in your grade. There’s absolutely no room for mistakes. If students feel like their mistakes are opportunities and not punishments, then maybe they’ll learn better.

2) Constant challenge

Gamers thrive on being pushed to the brink of their skills. If level 1 is too easy, just blitz through it and get to level 2. If that’s too easy, just keep on going till you finally find that puzzle you can’t figure out. That level that keeps getting you killed. Too often in school, if the level is too easy – “too bad” – you’ve got to stay there until everyone is ready to move along. You don’t feel challenged – you don’t feel motivated. Good learning comes from constantly feeling challenged.

3) Tight Feedback loop

Not only does gaming let you fail safely, it also lets you know right away when you made a mistake. When Mario falls into a pit, you hear the sad death music. When your character takes a hit – the screen turns red and starts to blink. You know right away that’s something you’re not supposed to do. In school though – the feedback loop takes forever. You study study study for months, take a test on one day – and only then you realize that you totally misunderstood the concept from the beginning. Your feedback is coming way too late – and learning happens too late as well.

By thinking about these three elements, and how we can incorporate them into learning systems, we can start to rethink what it means to learn and how we can drive better learning within the system.

How to Train Smarter Not Harder

How to Train Smarter Not Harder

One of the keys to a full and healthy lifestyle is a good balance between body and mind. The difficulty with physical training though is there are so many resources out there that that it can becoming overwhelming when one is simply trying to be fit. Because the thing is, we’re not all ultra-marathoners or pro athletes. Our fitness goals tend to be more modest than those who are interested in peak physical performance. They are the people willing to commit two to three hours a day while most of us don’t have that kind of time or luxury. Nonetheless we understand that fitness is important – and even though its not the end all be all, we want to be able to maintain our physical fitness in order to live and function well.

The worst thing you can do is just put on your shoes and run – or go to the gym and use whatever machine you feel like. It is directionless, aimless and can even be counterproductive. Instead, you ought to seek optimization and efficiency in your workout. Your workouts will take less time and yet still be effective.

So here’s a really quick and dirty list of steps you can take to determine what your fitness routine should look like. I’m not going to give any specific activity – but I’m sharing a process that will help you understand how to select your activities.

Step 1: Identify your goal

Do you want to run a 5k? Do you want to be able to keep up in your recreational basketball league? Do you want to not feel pain when you wake up in the morning? Identify your fitness goal and be specific about it. The more specific your goal is – the more you’ll be able to determine what your fitness needs are. Someone who wants to run a 5k once this year will have different training needs for someone who wants to be able to run a 5k at a drop of a hat.

Step 2: Determine your needs based on your goal

I tend to classify this under 3 categories: Endurance, Strength-Mobility, and Technique.

Most activities demand a kind of interaction between these three components, in varying degrees. It is not a question of priority, but a question of what is the right mix of these – because you will need all three.

As an example, suppose you’d like to run a 5k:

– The endurance component would demand you can maintain a speed of 3 meters per second

– The strength-mobility component would be having strong quadriceps and hamstrings, along with a good range of motion for the legs and hips.

– The technique component will be running style depending on your height, stride and foot arch.

On the other hand, suppose you just want to be able to play basketball with your friends:

– Your endurance component has to do with being able to successively burst sprints.

– Your strength-mobility component would be to have a balanced upper and lower body with emphasis on balance.

– The technique component will be related to shooting, ball handling, etc.

Step 3: Find ways to implement

The steps above are there in order to help you find really clear goals. Once that is in place, you have to make it happen!

The easiest way is to find a coach or a trainer. But it is not the kind of relationship where you passively do whatever the trainer tells you. Communicate your goals and your needs and together come up with a program that can work for you.

If getting a coach isn’t something you can do, there are no shortage of resources online – but this time, with your needs and goals in mind – you can be more critical and selective about the advice you are getting from the internet.

I never assign general workouts, because each person has different body types, fitness levels, capabilities and goals. It is up to each individual to be attentive to their own needs and expectations in order to be able to train effectively. Remember, simply training harder is not enough. Don’t put on your shoes and pile on miles and miles and miles. Think about the workouts you’re doing and how it actually contributes to your fitness goals.